Watch your step. Keep your French bulldog on a short leash. Pythons are making themselves at home everywhere, even amid the boutiques, cafes and condos along Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
Customers buying sandwiches and beer at Exprezo on Wednesday afternoon did a double take when they walked outside and noticed a large snake lounging beneath a royal palm.
"I figured, well, come on, how big can it be?" said owner Indika Wanigarathne. "When I saw how huge it was, I freaked out. So did everybody else."
Miami Beach police responded and captured the six-foot Burmese python on the sidewalk in front of the store and a residential building at 1300 Lincoln Road, just two blocks from the west end of the popular pedestrian mall.
The python, which may have been an escaped pet, will be turned over to a wildlife refuge, said police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez.
"Suspect apprehended!" tweeted Chief Daniel Oates, with photos of two officers wrangling the snake.
"First a male officer came, and didn’t want to get too close, so a second male officer came and said hell, no, he wasn’t going to touch it," Wanigarathne said. "Then a lady officer came and she was a genius. She didn’t panic. She put on gloves and picked up the python with her hands and put it in a little cooler. The guys gathered around were screaming but she was calm.”
The officer was Traci Sierra, whom Rodriguez described as an animal advocate.
"You could call her a hero,” said Wanigarathne. “Trust me, I wouldn’t grab that thing."
Pythons are gobbling their way through the Everglades, decimating native wildlife as the invader has replaced the alligator as the marsh’s top predator. In efforts to control the population, state officials hired snake trackers from the Irula tribe in India, who hunted down 33 snakes in a month, and the South Florida Water Management District is paying trappers by the hour and the foot as they have bagged 500 in five months – including a 16-foot, 10-inch monster slain by an orchid grower.
They’ve been spotted in Key Largo, in Homestead, near Kendale Lakes. What if they develop a taste for sushi or gelato or Cockapoos and invade Lincoln Road?
"Instead of looking for cars when we cross the street we will soon have to look for pythons," warned Wanigarathne.